Summer SAVY 2016 (Session 3, Day 1) – Fission and Fusion: Nuclear Engineering 101
The theme of our very first Fission and Fusion session was really small things! We learned all about electrons, neutrons, and protons and how they make up the elements and compounds we interact with every day. Using marshmallows and toothpicks, each student made models of some common compounds. In addition to testing our ability to resist eating our experiment, we also tested our ability to build everything from simple compounds to very large hydrocarbon chains.
Next, we assembled a giant periodic table to better understand how scientists organize and classify all of the known elements. The students exemplified exceptional ability and organizational skills to take on such a large task. During our open house, I encourage you all to take a look at the periodic table that is now covering an entire wall of our SAVY classroom.
We peered even farther back in time to the early 1900’s to learn how Ernest Rutherford used an experiment to determine that every atom has a positively charged nucleus. We mimicked Rutherford’s experiment by “bombarding” unknown shapes with “alpha” particles. Students had to guess the type of hidden shape they had based on the trajectories of the “alpha” particles bouncing off their shape. We learned just how difficult it is to figure out the properties of an object without being able to see it. We discussed how fortunate scientists are to now have fancy equipment to easily determine properties of different elements.
We wrapped things up by learning about the different types of radiation. We discovered that there are “good” and “bad” types of radiation and how we could definitely not survive without it! We also briefly discussed the applications of radiation and how things like nuclear power plants generate specific types of radiation.
Next up, we are going to learn the specifics of fission and how tiny neutron particles can create immense amounts of energy in nuclear reactors.